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Bouncing Forward, not Bouncing Back: Adapting with Resilience (Part 1)

By Gwendolyn VanSant

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

― Nelson Mandela

Resilience can often be misconstrued as an ability to return to something rather than breakthrough to something new. In times of adversity, resilience is the ability to navigate breakdowns that are often out of your own control, be nimble, or admit failure (and embrace it). When something does take the breath out of you or knock you down, resilience is the ability to get back up, breathe, and make informed, positive decisions to reset your equilibrium. This holds true when we speak of personal resilience, cultural resilience, or also organizational resilience. What we know from research is that any and all of the character strengths influence resilience. For example, hope keeps us looking and moving forward, spirituality keeps us connected to a bigger purpose, perseverance and prudence help us to keep going – wisely!

Resilience is the capacity to move through tumultuous times and setbacks and remain intact on a path to flourishing. Or, as I often tell clients, colleagues, and mentees, it’s about being able to “come back to center” whether we’re talking about an individual, team, project, community, or an organization. For some, resilience can be taught; for others, it is almost innate; for others it has been deliberately designed and practiced. For many cultural groups, resilience has never been an option either; it has been a survival skill. I personally resonate with the study and practice of this skill and larger body of work for all of these reasons.

At one stage of my career about seven years ago, I had lived a life of enough adversity to know that I needed some help. I needed a “shift.” You might call this a “back to the basics” need for Resilience 101. So, I signed up for a newsletter on resilience, which led me to a year-long study in the science of positive psychology with Dr. Maria Sirois and Dr. Tal Ben Shahar.

In my studies, I learned the science behind resilience, which comes from global research over decades.

So many lessons resonated with me. I recognized my challenges maintaining some objectivity, and I saw new pathways out. I loved understanding the science of how time and time again, over the centuries, and across the globe, individuals do find pathways out. For me, positive psychology reveals the science behind how gendered or racialized or minoritized groups have already been resilient. And character strengths are the “backbone of positive psychology” to paraphrase one of the architects of the science Dr. Martin Seligman.

The very concept of resilience affirms the ancestral legacy and experience that codifies innate and learned social behaviors and their correlating emotions. This body of work affirmed that I had already been living in the realm of resilience. And, looking back over key moments and phases of my life, I saw how I actively pursued and found and created new pathways out. I also learned how to teach these skills to others and better appreciate my own resilience skills as incredible leadership skills and sources of strength.

Flash forward to the present moment. These days, I am usually teaching or coaching individuals, community leaders, and corporate teams on resilience using an appreciative inquiry framework. I often co-lead these conversations about resilience teaming up with Dr. Sirois. We introduce fast skills and growth mindset. Other times, I am simply using perspective to show a “straight A student” that a B is more than okay or honesty and kindness to remind the student who made it to school through several extremely difficult challenges that they are resilient.

Again, resilience is about how well you navigate adversity. We can find examples of resilience all around us in individuals, cultural groups, organizations, and in our environment. It is happening all of the time.

“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.”

―Catherine DeVrye, The Gift of Nature

Find Part Two of this two-part series here.

(adapted with author approval from an original article published at originally published at